Design: Bunker down

Ben Crawford gets some tips from an expert about what to expect when you ask a designer to turn your dreams for your home into a reality

Andy Florkowski put his mind to turning a disused World War II bunker in Hawke's Bay into a cafe. Photo / Ben Crawford
Andy Florkowski put his mind to turning a disused World War II bunker in Hawke's Bay into a cafe. Photo / Ben Crawford

Designer help

Designing a home from scratch can be daunting and darn right difficult. Some people have the ability to look at a bare bit of land and visualise a three-dimensional building down to the tiniest of detail. And some people can't. That's okay though, because fortunately we can call on a range of specialists to make up for our skill gaps.

Luckily I do okay with design and spatial awareness, but I don't claim to be an architect or design professional, so this week I had a chat with one to get some advice on what to consider when engaging the services of a designer to help bring your home to life.

Andy Florkowski, 26, is a senior designer at RCG, a firm of property specialists, architects and designers based in Parnell. Andy is regarded as one of New Zealand's top emerging young designers and it's no wonder, given the global recognition he has already received.

Last year, Andy was selected as one of only 10 finalists in the Architecture For Humanity Open Architecture Challenge from more than 700 global submissions. He won the privilege to exhibit at the prestigious Venice Architecture Biennale in Italy.

Architecture For Humanity is a global, not-for-profit charity that taps into a network of more than 50,000 professionals willing to lend time and expertise to help those who would not otherwise be able to afford their services.

Every two years, it runs a competition called the Open Architecture Challenge, where it asks the global architecture community to respond to a problem. For Andy, that brief was based on the fact that 10 per cent of America's military footprint has closed down, leaving phenomenal amounts of vacant space across the country.

But it's not a problem unique to the US. The challenge was to look at abandoned military sites closer to home and submit a response for how these could be repurposed so they could better serve the local community.

Andy turned to the abandoned World War II bunkers that are dotted around the Napier landscape and proposed that they be turned into tourist rest stops. Given their commanding locations overlooking the stunning Hawke's Bay coastline, they provide an obvious but unrealised opportunity to frame the landscape, preserve our war history and provide a window into New Zealand's past by sharing our stories with visitors.

A genius idea. And I also love Andy's ultimate industrial cafe fit-out design - the salivatingly sublime combination of war-worn concrete and rough-sawn timber.

After receiving such glowing international praise for his innovative vision, Andy is now in discussions with local councils to bring the concept to life. And I hope that they do. It would be amazing to see these little cafes popping up around Napier and all over New Zealand. There is a massive opportunity to convert hundreds of historic but derelict structures across the country into unique assets for the immediate community and visitors alike.

Andy's designer tips

1. A designer is quite different from a decorator.

2. Designers don't just pick fabrics and colours. To bring your ideas and aspirations to life, we need to know "a thing or two" about planning, economics and the entire construction process, all juggled to ensure creative flair is maintained.

3. Not all of us wear loud shirts and have thick-frame glasses. Sometimes the creativity brews beneath the surface.

4. Don't cut corners when investing in design. A good designer can assist you with cost-saving options across the building process and still maintain positive design intent.

5. Reality TV shows make building and renovation appear seamless but, in the real world, the consent process can be difficult, deliveries will be late and there is a good chance variations to your plan will happen on site. Prepare to expect these frustrations.

6. There will always be a trade-off between practicality and creativity. Designers strive to ensure great-looking solutions and balance requirements that are necessary for a safe and functional building.

7. The development of your home or business can be emotional. Your designer will most likely become your therapist. That's okay though, we're used to it.

8. Define your build priorities. A well-known saying in the industry is "Good. Fast. Cheap. The client will need to pick two."

9. The building code, zoning laws and fire regulations are the beginning of a list of compulsory requirements. Designers don't just make them up so don't blame them when you get frustrated with the red tape.

10. Plan ahead because "as soon as possible" isn't a timeframe. We know you want the Italian tiles and we do too, but Italy hasn't got any closer and shipping can take up to 12 weeks.

Contact Andy or view more of his work at andyflorkowski.com

Ben Crawford is the author of the home design inspiration book Built For Caffeine and runs creative advertising agency Libby & Ben.

- Herald on Sunday

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